Last night Mrs K and I took in Epilogue Players’ production of “The Curious Savage” – John Patrick’s 1950 play about an elderly woman who is placed in a health sanitorium (read asylum) by greedy step-children after she has seemed to become frivilous with the family’s rather substantial monetary holdings. The show was directed by Margy Lancet-Fletcher with assistant director Joan Walker.
To me what is curious about “The Curious Savage” is why anyone still chooses to put on this dated nugget. I have seen it a few times over the years and it just never seems to be more than a vehicle for a bunch of actors to be employed, many of whom get a chance to play whacky characters while a heavy handed morality story is played out and placed in the audiences laps. I am sure at one time the wacky characters delighted and the story rang truly and adeptly for a post-war generation that was just finding it’s way back to some financially stable footing. But the play is 60 years old (!) and though we may still need morals and lessons about our human failures, this dated piece fills the bill about as much as a TV episode of “My Little Margie” would. These old style plays have old style structure, with endless exposition leading thru innocent humor to a dated moral finish. I just do not think it is a very good play, especially by today’s sensibilities.
So while it was difficult for me to be carried along by the narrative of the play, I must say that the cast of 11 gave the experience some redeeming qualities. Given the ripe opportunities to dash off an oddball character, the actors playing the 5 other patients gave mostly strong performances. A standout was Tempiellen Knuteson’s Fairy May. In terms of character Knuteson hits the nail on the head with her airy, cute and innocent choices. In voice and movement she conveys the fragile Fairy to the audience in an enchanting way. Oppositely, Susan Gaertner’s Mrs. Paddy is a closed up bag of pressurized steam – letting loose with her list of hated items on rare occasion, then closing up into a perfectly stern but vulnerable casing. Gaertner has few lines but works the entire time at keeping her character in the moment with facial acting using her eyes and mouth as visually expressive tools. It is a good job that goes almost unnoticed.
The other 3 patients are Cheryl Fesmire as Florence, a patient with a baby-doll “child”, Jeff Pemberton as Jeffrey, who has deep scars but not where he thinks they are, and Rich Steinberg as Hannibal as the violin playing (not!) statistician. They all do admirable jobs, believable and fleshed out – given what the script gives them to work with.
The rest of the supporting cast – that is, the 3 adult step-children and the 2 person asylum staff – are all played by veteran actors I am accustomed to seeing around town. Except, that is, for Michaela Kruse, whom I have never seen, and who did a wonderful job with her strong portrayal of staffer Miss Willis. Sure-footed and confident, she was the perfect supporting character – never hoping to grab the spotlight until the story gave it to her. Also impressive was Bernard Wurger, whose even, steady portrayal of Dr. Emmett was reassuring and solid. The children, played by Susan Townsend as an aptly whiney Lily Belle, Steve Demuth as the confused and unsteady Samuel, and Michael Maloney as the overly important senator, Titus all found interesting aspects of their characters to project. I would have asked Mr. Maloney to find a more varied array of emotions to cover his frustrations than just yelling, but for the most part all three gave solid performances.
The lead actress was Ethel Booth as the put upon Mrs. Savage. Frankly, it is always delightful to see my friend Ethel work on stage. Let’s just say that she is a stage veteran and that her long and varied experience has formed her into a performer who seems so comfortable and at ease in the spotlight – she gives effortless looking portrayals that charm and command. Her Mrs. Savage was a wonderful blend of a feisty, enduring, life-loving, and love giving woman. Her sure approach to her character adds to every other actor’s portrayal and is a good reason to attend this show.
But the show has problems that go along with the stage worthy acting. There never seems to be much cohesion between the characters. There are flashes of it here and there – but it is almost as if the actors are operating in vacuums – waiting for their cue lines to be said so they can be their character again. There is little meshing of emotions, in my opinion, and little or no spark between characters to carry the interactions along their way. This, I believe, is mainly the fault of the script although I see things directors Fletcher and Walker might have addressed. Pacing is unsteady or not even considered in several scenes. The disjointedness of the roles could also be the result of not enough attention paid to drilling the actors on the importance of cue pickup and tempo. I see in the program that this is only Ms. Fletcher’s second solo directorial stint (along with several co-directing turns with her husband) so missing some details can be excused, but the results are what they are. That being a lot of pretty good acting resulting in an unassembled event. Again, the outdated script did not help.
“The Curious Savage ” continues today (7/17) and one final weekend (7/22-24) with Fri-Sat shows at 7:30pm and Sun shows at 2pm. Reservations are recommended by calling 317-926-3139 or emailing email@example.com